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Whatever Happened to Past South Dakota Lottery Winners?

Lottery winner Neal Wanless
Courtesy AP Archive via YouTube

It’s unknown whether there is a Powerball Lottery winner this morning, but just chatting about it yesterday brought up some questions that I wanted answered.

We were wondering if and when we’d had any big winners in South Dakota. So I started digging and this is what I discovered.

The largest lottery jackpot ever won in South Dakota ($232,100,000) went to 23-year-old Neal Wanless from Mission in 2009. He took a cash payout of $88 million, bought ranch property near Vale and promptly moved. For the most part he keeps a very low profile.

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Bill and Tina Nguyen from Pierre won the second largest lottery prize in South Dakota in May 2006, which was $116,800,000. They also took a lump sum payment and after taxes, took home around $39 million. They donated thousands to charity and then moved out of state.

The Watertown 34, a group of factory workers split a $50.9 million dollar jackpot with someone in Indiana, in February 2003, to land in third place of the highest South Dakota lottery winnings. They decided on the one time cash payment and each member of the pool took home a bit less than $600,000. All but four pool members (who planned to retire) indicated they would keep their jobs and even put money into another lottery pool not long after they won.

Ionia Klein from Dallas, South Dakota was perhaps the most memorable and controversial lottery winner. It was April of 1991 and 32 year old, part-time convenience store clerk Ionia Klein arrived at work and found the mistakenly printed lottery ticket laying on the register. She realized it had the winning numbers, put $5 in the lottery cash box, paying for the ticket, signed it and contacted officials with Lotto America (the precursor to the Powerball Lottery, which replaced it).

Klein initially lied about how and when she came to have the ticket, saying she had purchased it prior to, and not after, the winning numbers were revealed. She later admitted the truth and that is when the litigation began. The store owners (her employers) sued her. The clerk who mistakenly printed the ticket off in the first place sued her, as did a Sioux Falls man who believed the money should have gone back into the lottery.

The resolution of this story was an out-of-court settlement, after months of litigation, which split the jackpot 58 percent for Klein, and 42 percent to the convenience store owners. After 19 years of payments the Kleins collected around $4 million. The latest information I could find, indicated they still live on the farm they purchased with their lottery winnings, near Gregory, South Dakota.

You can see the rest of the top 10 South Dakota lottery winners here.

Sources: The Seattle Times, Keloland Media, Watertown Public Opinion,The MItchell Daily Republic

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